Singing the “song of the open road” may not be as easy today as it was in Walt Whitman’s time, but that’s no reason not to plan a road trip to feed that spirit of adventure.
The pace, however, of great road trips, requires getting off the interstates and fast-paced toll roads. It’s all about the “getting there” and less about the “being there.” Road trips are mostly about discovery. To really experience the thrill of road travel, one has to get off the beaten track a bit, slow down and savor the sights, be open to new experiences and put aside unreasonable expectations. Here are some ways to do it right:
Travel With a Flexible Schedule
Nothing can take the fun out of a spur-of the moment detour or a fascinating museum visit than having to move on because of a predetermined schedule. Well, almost nothing, that is, except running out of gas or having car trouble. While taking to the road without motel reservations can strike fear into faint hearts, there is usually no reason to be fearful—except perhaps on holiday weekends.
Vehicle problems are another story. But, in this instance, technology is your best friend. Exercise reasonable care when planning a route, and don’t be overly ambitious about the miles planned for each day. Still, take every opportunity to venture off the beaten path, stay an extra night in a wonderful small town, or go out of the way to find an unusual attraction.
With reliable cell phone service almost everywhere and a variety of unique travel apps available, there is little reason to have to plan every moment of a trip.
Go Ahead: Get Lost
Getting lost might actually turn out to be a good memory. A successful road trip involves a mental reset as well as a plan. A wise backup plan, however, is to stop at a tourist information center.
They exist throughout many parts of the world and are wonderful resources for traveling throughout U.S. states and Canadian provinces, as well as several countries in Europe. Take advantage of the local expertise they provide whenever possible. Ask about local attractions, road advisories and availability of services; some will even book lodging or sightseeing excursions.
Also, pick up a paper road map. It’s an invaluable addition to an electronic route planner; it may not have information about the next gas station, but it will show topography and land features, helpful for planning a route when the destination is of little importance.
Camp Out or Luxury Motel?
It’s a matter of personal choice, of course, but for city folk, sleeping under the stars and grilling burgers around an outdoor fire can represent a little bit of heaven. A road trip should leave travelers with a new appreciation of the unfamiliar. After all, large commercial brand lodging can be pretty much the same in Athens, Ga., Athens, Texas, or Athens, Greece.
If camping has little appeal, try small boutique hotels or B&B’s. Eschew drive-through food lanes in favor of picking up sandwich makings and cool drinks from a supermarket. Stop for a picnic in a park or along the seashore. Ask locals for recommendations about great small-town eateries. Or just look to see which local breakfast cafe has the most cars parked outside!
For destination-oriented travelers, the time it takes to get to a faraway place by vehicle can represent an adjustment, but the lure of the unknown and the slower pace of road travel can be rejuvenating.